Toronto and Albany will again go head-to-head in a repeat of last year’s second round matchup.
That turned out to be a hard-fought seven-game series in which the Marlies prevailed on home ice thanks to a late winning goal from Rich Clune. The first round is only a best-of-five, but it should be equally as tight, with the Devils at full strength due to New Jersey’s failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Regular Season Series
Toronto held the edge during the eight-game regular series (4-2-2), but both teams managed winning records on home ice.
Albany will be glad they won’t have to face Byron Froese, who put up six goals and nine points during the season series against the Devils before he was moved to Tampa Bay in the trade for Brian Boyle. Interestingly, it’s been the Marlies blue-liners who have produced the goods offensively against New Jersey’s AHL affiliate this season.
Of the players currently on the roster, Travis Dermott led the way with six points, ably backed up by Andrew Campbell, Justin Holl and Andrew Nielsen all at four apiece. Holl led all Toronto skaters with three goals in the season series.
Albany recorded a power play marker in six of the eight games and netted seven PP goals total. They did allow three shorthanded tallies, however, and Toronto was able to score five times with the extra man despite 12 fewer man-advantage opportunities.
Tale of the Tape: Toronto Marlies
The goaltending position was a huge talking point during the 2016 Calder Cup campaign, with neither Antoine Bibeau or Garret Sparks finding any sort of consistency. It’s a slightly different situation this time around as Garret Sparks enters the playoffs as the clear number-one choice. What is less clear is who will serve as Sparks’ backup.
Antoine Bibeau has been out of favour since the seven-goal third-period meltdown against Binghamton at the ACC on March 19, while Kasimir Kaskisuo has acquitted himself well at the AHL level in a limited sample.
While Nikita Soshnikov and Kasperi Kapanen are up with the Leafs for the foreseeable future, the Marlies have a healthy squad to select from except for Tobias Lindberg, who is currently on IR due to an upper-body injury.
Of the 26 players listed on the playoff roster, a total of ten suited up for the Marlies last season during the 2016 run to the Conference Finals. Add Mike Sislo, Cal O’Reilly, Sergey Kalinin, Seth Griffith, Colin Greening and Steve Oleksy into mix and it makes the current squad a significantly more experienced group than the Marlies team that lost out to Hershey last Spring. In Colin Greening and Kerby Rychel, the Marlies also have two former Calder Cup winners in their ranks.
Tale of the Tape: Albany Devils
The Albany Devils have been a streaky team for the majority of the season. At the start of the year, they won their first five games before losing four of their next five. With a decimated roster, a seven-game losing streak through March put their playoff berth in doubt. Their season was then saved by a strong finish on home ice, where they won five of six to cement third place in the North Division.
The Devils were a much better team at home than away this season, finishing with a 22-13-1-2 record at the Times Union Center compared to a below .500 record with a goal differential of -25 on the road.
Albany’s top two scorers were rookie centers in John Quenneville and Blake Coleman. The former put up 46 points in 58 games during the AHL regular season and a further four points in 12 NHL outings. He’s a huge part of Albany’s power play success with nine goals and 16 assists on the man advantage.
Coleman played 23 games in the NHL this season and managed just two points for New Jersey. In the AHL, the rookie forward finished with 19 goals and 39 points in 52 games.
Names more familiar from last year’s playoff matchup include Brian Gibbons, Carter Camper, Blake Pietala, Nick Lappin, and Joe Blandisi.
Camper was a part of the Hershey team that gave Toronto the run-around last Spring and he’s been a key cog of Albany’s power play with 18 assists. Quenneville and Blandisi is a combination to be wary of; the two translated their chemistry from the AHL to the NHL level this season and will look to wage damage together in these playoffs.
The Devils also found themselves a diamond in the rough this season in offensive defenseman Jacob MacDonald. Signed to a PTO in January, the Michigan native has racked up 24 points in 34 AHL games during his first go-around in the league.
Vojtech Mozik is Albany’s second highest scoring defenseman with just 22 points, but nine of his 11 goals have been scored on the power play. Andrew MacWilliam and Viktor Loov are two familiar faces on the Devils blue line, and both will be looking to bring a physical brand of hockey in this series.
With Scott Wedgwood out long-term due to shoulder surgery, the Devils have had to rely on two rookie goaltenders to carry the load. Ken Appleby got off an excellent start but has cooled off significantly of late, while the opposite could be said of Mackenzie Blackwood. He posted two shutouts in his final five starts and looks certain to take the number-one job to start the playoffs.
Keys to the Series
This series is almost a role reversal of the 2016 second round match-up. Albany has called back all their hot-shots from the NHL, while Toronto is shorn of Kasperi Kapanen and Nikita Soshnikov, two players who would certainly make a difference in a playoff series. The Marlies could be considered the underdogs in that sense, but this series is likely to be decided by finest of margins.
Toronto will rely on players like Brendan Leipsic, Mike Sislo, Seth Griffith and Cal O’Reilly to break down Albany’s staunch defense and carry the load offensively, while Andreas Johnsson will look to build on his 20-goal season and erase memories of how last year’s playoffs ended for him.
Special teams often make the difference in playoffs series and it’s an area where Albany will feel they hold the upper hand in this matchup.
A man to look out for on the Devils penalty kill is Kevin Rooney. Of his 13 goals during the regular season, four were shorthanded markers. Overall, Albany scored eleven shorthanded goals in 2016-17 — good for fourth in the league.
The Devils penalty kill finished at 84% (sixth-best in the AHL) and it was certainly more consistent than the Marlies’ PK units. The Marlies’ penalty kill rebounded from 75% up into the mid-80s before late-season struggles saw them finish at 81.8%.
Whether the Marlies can get their power play back on track could be as big of a factor as any in this series. It’s been an area of concern for a little while now, finding the net at just 12% through the last 11 games of the regular season. The power play was converting at a rate approaching 25% through most of the season, however, and finished fourth in the AHL at 22.3%.
Albany has proven themselves a team you don’t want to find yourselves trailing against this season. The Devils were 24-5-1-0 this season when leading after 20 minutes and 26-3-1-0 when leading after two periods.
|Thu, Apr 20||7:00 pm EDT||Albany|
|Sat, Apr 22||5:00 pm EDT||Albany|
|Wed, Apr 26||7:00 pm EDT||Toronto|
|Fri, Apr 28||7:00 pm EDT||Toronto|
|Sat, Apr 29||7:00 pm EDT||Toronto|
Toronto Marlies Playoff Preview